With a 411-foot plunge, Upper Whitewater Falls in North Carolinas Nantahala National Forest is the highest waterfall east of the Rockies. Split between two states, its South Carolina portion, known as the Lower Falls, also drops another 400 feet. A short 0.25 mile paved path takes visitors to an excellent view of Whitewater Falls, with an additional overlook reached via a 154-step staircase. Located just off NC-218, the Whitewater Falls Recreation Area is open from dawn to dusk and contains a picnic area with views of nearby Lake Jocassee. More experienced hikers can choose to hike 8.5 miles along the Foothills Trail to the Lower Whitewater Falls Overlook in South Carolinas Sumter National Forest.
Whitewater Falls Overlook Trail | 0.50 Mile
Whitewater Falls Recreation Area Location | Google Maps
Trail access surrounding Whitewater Falls Scenic Area.
After a long afternoon of waterfall chasing along NC-218 to visit White Owl Falls, D.E.W. Falls, and Johns Jump Falls, I decided to end my jaunt through the woods at one of the most spectacular waterfalls on the east coast, Whitewater Falls. I first heard about this waterfall several years ago when I first traveled to Gorges State Park to hike the Rainbow Falls and Bearwallow Falls Trail. Always regretting not stopping by then to see it I arranged my time in Cashiers and Highlands around paying my respects to what’s considered the King of Waterfalls. As one of the regions must-see tourists destinations, Whitewater Falls has been visited by locals and tourists as far back as the mid-1800’s. Taking an entire day to reach by foot, with the threat of wild animal encounters, and involving some perilous stream crossings, this wild and untamed waterfall can now safely be seen from its own dedicated recreation area.
Pay at the kiosk to park.
Short 0.50 mile paved path to Upper Whitewater Falls Overlook.
Located in rural Jackson\Transylvania County near the South Carolina state line, this recreation area sees only a modest amount of visitation and rarely gets packed. The Forest Service maintained property does charge a small $3 fee to use the amenities and hike the trails here, so be prepared to carry some cash on hand. One of the first things you notice from the parking lot are the outrageously beautiful views of Lake Jocasee off in the distance. The sweeping vistas of the southern Blue Ridge Mountains encircling the lake alone are worth paying the fee. The 0.50 mile paved path to the first lookout of Upper Whitewater Falls starts at the kiosk and works its way uphill below some scenic bluffs.
Stunning views of Lake Jocassee in South Carolina.
The first overlook of Upper Whitewater Falls. Partially obscured, but still awe inspiring.
Upon arriving, you’ll find a few benches circled around a distant view of Upper Whitewater Falls northernmost cascades. If you think this is the whole waterfall then you are sorely mistaken. One of the best views and most accurate portrayals of Whitewater Falls can only be seen by descending the 154 steps below this point. At the lower lookout, one gets a full frontal and unobscured look at one of the wildest waterfalls anywhere. A lot of people mistake this to be just one large or single drop, but Whitewater Falls is actually made up of a series of waterfalls and cascades falling a staggering 411 ft. Just one of these sections would be considered spectacular by most waterfall enthusiasts, let alone all of them put together.
Stairs leading down to the best overlook of Upper Whitewater Falls & the Foothills Trail.
Plenty of photo ops at the lower observation platform.
From this observation deck, visitors have the option of taking a short spur down to the Foothills Trail and hiking that 8.5 miles to the Lower Whitewater Falls overlook down in South Carolina. At 200 ft tall, the Lower Whitewater Falls is nearly half the size of its counterpart. The Whitewater River plunges a staggering 1,500 feet between these two falls which should give you some idea of what the hike will be like to reach it. A shorter route to see the Lower Falls can be found off the Bad Creek Foothills Trail Access which is owned and operated by Duke Energy. From here, the trail is a much shorter and less strenuous 2.0 miles one way.
The King of Waterfalls! Just look at that stunning 400 ft drop.
Though this was a quick stop and a little on the “pedestrian” side of things, I’m glad to finally be able to cross this waterfall off my bucket list after years of skipping past it. Up next we’re driving 9 miles west to another gem deep in the Nantahala National Forest along NC-107. Silver Run Falls is one of the more scenic and secluded waterfalls in the Cashiers area. This tranquil 25 ft waterfall cascades into a large natural pool with a small beach area that’s popular with locals during the summer months. A short 0.25 mile trail maintained by the Forest Service leads to the picturesque falls and several overlooks along Silver Run Creek. This is one of those places you have to stop by and check out if you’re in the area so stay tuned for our upcoming article an as always, see y’all on the trails!